Tailor gen. eds to fit

Gen. eds are the latest in a string of changes at NIU, and it is the program that needs the most help.

If gen. eds are around to help students “attain a sound liberal education and to acquire sufficient general knowledge and intellectual versatility to enable them to become informed and resourceful members of society,” according to NIU, why don’t they teach students information with real-life applications? Freshmen will find more post-graduation uses for lessons on balancing a checkbook than they will tips on tracking the North Star (though we thank you for your efforts, PHYS 162).

An easy solution is tailoring gen. eds to majors and making the program more flexible: A math major will still be required to take a course like STAT 208, but other students won’t. Those who aren’t focused on solving the mysteries behind the quadratic equation can satisfy their sciences and mathematics requirement with a course that teaches them the math behind taxes, loans and managing a bank account.

Similarly, an English student may be required to take a high-level English course like ENGL 315, but math majors can satisfy their College of Liberal Arts and Sciences requirements with a course about publishing academic work. This way, non-English majors will be shown how to produce work not unlike the papers they’ll submit to science journals after graduation.

After all, students often choose their majors based on their interests and strengths; a philosophy major may flounder and be disinterested in CHEM 110, but he or she will find uses in a science course that teaches them about biology and the ethics behind modifying or experimenting on living beings. If another philosophy major loves chemistry, he or she can still take that course to satisfy a science requirement.

Because gen. ed programs generally require completing 120 credits, students would be tasked with satisfying more gen. eds in their major to make up for not taking as many courses in their non-major fields. That chemistry-failing philosophy student would have to take more courses about the basics and history of philosophy.

Students would still be required to take classes in fields outside their majors so they become well-rounded, but the flexibility and tailoring of this program would help students stay interested in their gen. eds and, just as important, give them information they’ll find uses for post-graduation.

“We are suffering in terms of enrollment and retention. We could be in trouble if we don’t get this fixed in five years or sooner,” said General Education coordinator Michael Kolb, according to a Jan. 30 Northern Star article.

That should be frightening to a school that lost 4,116 students in total enrollment from fall 2007 to fall 2013, bringing enrollment down to 21,138.

Students aren’t interested in NIU’s bogged-down gen. ed program and are going to community colleges — or other universities — to satisfy their requirements for less than the about $1,000 NIU asks per three credit hours.

That’s not going to change unless the gen. ed program makes strides in a new direction.